Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky
These guys write about technical leadership, when the challenge is about getting more efficient at the repertoire of solutions we have already and adaptive leadership when the current repertoire of solutions just isn’t going to work any more because the territory is different. In a complex context what is needed form leaders is adaptive leadership which, more often than not, being prepared to change oneself in some way.
Meetings Matter (2015) by Paul Axtell
I am not sure who would look for a book about how to have effective meetings because most people think they are good at them but this book is excellent and goes much deeper than just techniques.
For example he includes fundamentals for mastering effective conversation such as quality of attention and checking for the four C’s (clarity, candour, commitment and completion).
Mostly you see Axtell quoted in relation to making virtual meetings work and he does indeed have some very helpful suggestions around that. Anyone who facilitates meetings will find this book full of thoughtful and practical help.
The Living Company by Arie De Geus
De Geus did a piece of research when he was working at Shell on long lived companies ie over 100 years. This book is about what makes the difference.
Senior Leadership Teams. What it takes to make them great by Wageman, Nunes, Burrus and Hackman
This is another good book for eldership teams. It is based on a study of 120 top teams from around the world and is a really useful resource for any CEO.
Complex Adaptive Leadership: Embracing Paradox and Uncertainty by Nick Obolensky
Nick Obolensky does an excellent summary of what has changed in the world wide context and how a complexity based approach fits with that. He talks about how power has shifted over history and how fragmented it is now. If ever you need to position why we need a different approach to leadership this is really helpful.
Global Forces by Bruce Nixon
How to link your authentic leadership with the demands of the changing context and working with ecologies.
Facilitating Organisation Change: Lessons from Complexity Science by Edwin E Olson and Glenda H Eoyang
Large group interventions are a powerful way of working a large system to get rapid change and it is all underpinned by ideas from complexity. This book was a revelation to me because it is so practical but with very well founded reasons.
Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework
I send this link to people who are grappling with how to work with ambiguity. I find that much of the writing about complexity theory is either abstract or trite. Dave has great credentials and has also produced really usable material.
“The End of Power; Why being in charge isn’t what it used to be” by Moises Naim
This is a superb book if you like big picture. The central idea is that power is easier to get and harder to use.This is leading to a fragmentation of power, it is easier for smaller players to enter, and this is changing the world. He is hugely knowledgeable and well-read and draws on a vast array of examples from many sectors. He talks about the More, Mobility and Mentality revolution. More: people are more numerous and living fuller lives so are more difficult to control. Mobility: more people are moving than at any other time in world history. Mentality: there is growing importance attributed to transparency and fairness.
Brene Brown on Vulnerability
Systems thinking is all about emergent order creating new solutions that could not have been predicted from looking at the elements. The emergence comes from interconnections, so in leadership terms that is all about a relational approach to leadership. Brene is very funny and she is also talking about what it really takes. This is one of the all time most popular TED talks.
The Dance of Change: The challenge of sustaining momentum in learning organisations by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charolotte Roberts, Richard Ross, George Roth, Bryan Smith.
Peter Senge is one of the foremost writers on systems thinking and organisational learning. This is one of his many excellent books that he writes with others.
“Political Savvy: Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind the Scenes” By Joel DeLuca
I love the reframe that DeLuca does in this book. Politics, rather than being a distasteful thing, is leadership behind the scenes. At least it is if you engage with it in the right mindset. The book offers a very useful way of analysing the politics of a situation, even if it is somewhat old school in its assumptions eg that one can observe a system in a neutral way.
Why should anyone be led by you? By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Classic work about it takes to be an authentic leader and why that is needed in complex, ever changing ambiguous environments.
The World Cafe: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter by Juanita Brown
Viral Change (2006) by Leandro Herrero
Herrero says that collaborative spaces in organisations can happen by design and they happen spontaneously. They can also be either formal or informal.
Whilst most change management approaches focus on the 25% of interactions that happen in the planned formal space, he focuses our attention on how to work through the 75% of work conversations that happen in the informal spontaneous problem solving space.
Well that makes sense. This book is absolutely worth reading. It is full of interesting things like what network science tells us and how to create social tipping points.
“Seeing Systems” by Barrie Oshry
This book is fabulous for understanding the systemic patterns that go on in organisations. For many years they ran a learning laboratory where organisations were simulated by attributing people randomly to the roles of Tops, Middles or Bottoms. What became visible were the patterns, regardless of the personalities. This book contains lots of wisdom about the recurring patterns in organisations and how to disrupt the Dance of Blind Reflex.
Leadership Team Coaching by Peter Hawkins
What I like about this book is that the focus is on collective leadership. Hawkins identifies five disciplines for leadership teams to be transformational. The book is written for the team coach.
Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. By C Otto Scharmer
This book knits together leading edge thinking from a number of areas and what it proposes is profound I think. It shifts focus form individual leadership to collective transformational leadership.
Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley
This is a really practical book for OD practitioners.
Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most (1999) by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project
The authors define difficult conversations as ones where there is a gap between what you are thinking and what you are saying. They offer 2 valuable things: a way to understand what is going on and a map to find your way through. For example, in understanding what is going on it helps to be aware that there are three streams going on in the conversation.
The “What Happened” conversation is the one where we get sucked into the trap of debating who is right and wrong. The “Feelings” conversation is there whether we like it or not. It is fruitless to remain in logic alone because unexpressed feelings will leak into the conversation in a less than helpful way if we do not address them directly.
Thirdly, do not underestimate the threat to identity for all parties. Be aware of the “Identity” conversation. There are many practical suggestions in the book and we have used the wisdom from it numerous times since reading it.
Three books on large group interventions
Large Group Interventions. Engaging the whole system for rapid change by Barbara Bunker and Billie Alban
Future Search. An action guide to finding common ground on organisations and communities by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff
Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen
The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (2012) by Charles Green and Andrea Howe
This book is full of wisdom about how to build trust. For example we know that building trust requires credibility and reliability, things that most professionals are very good at. It also requires intimacy though ie that people will feel safe with you and, challengingly, it requires a lack of self orientation. There are many processes in organisations which encourage us to be promoting our achievements. It can seem counterintuitive that a lack of self interest is required to build trust and for many organisational goals we need people to trust us.
Your Brain at Work by David Rock
This book on the other hand is how to get the best out of that highly sophisticated gear you have in your head –your brain. It’s really well backed with research but still speaks in plain English.